£2bn cost to British businesses of European red tape

So now we have the evidence, what are our leaders going to actually do about it? Especially the bit about our own civil servants ‘gold plating’, that can be fixed immediately.

By Robert Watts – Sunday Telegraph – 21st July 2013

COMPLYING with European Union regulations is costing Britain billions of pounds a year, the first official audit of the cost of membership is to disclose.
The burden on British businesses will be laid bare in a series of reports which will be published tomorrow by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary.
The audit is made up of six reports – called “Balance of Competences” – which civil servants have spent months preparing.
Senior Conservatives hope the reports will form the bedrock of a renegotiation with Brussels, if David Cameron wins the 2015 general election.
Evidence published alongside the reports will show:
• More than 400 new laws have been passed by the European Parliament since the Coalition was formed three years ago, with legislation costing British business £676 million a year;
• Complying with the EU Agency Workers’ Directive costs British firms as much as £1.5 billion a year;
• Less than half of foreign aid money paid by EU institutions goes to help the world’s poorest people.
The initial documents will look at how the EU affects British taxation, health, overseas aid, foreign policy, animal welfare and food safety.
One of the reports will also provide an overview of how the single market affects British businesses.
A further 26 reports will be published in coming months, in a boost to the Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservatives.
However, Tory Government sources indicated that Lib Dem elements of the Government had “sexed down” some of the more critical evidence of EU waste and bureaucracy.
“These are sober documents that provide evidence and analysis about Britain’s relationship with Europe – they do not set out future Government policy,” said a senior Foreign Office source.

It is understood one of the key themes of the reports will be that civil servants in Whitehall often “goldplate” EU regulations unnecessarily to make such laws more onerous than necessary.

Open Europe, the Euro-sceptic think tank, described the reports as a “useful exercise that will inform the EU debate for years to come”. Stephen Booth, a researcher for Open Europe, added: “Unless this review is complemented by a more political strategy to set out the parameters of a future EU renegotiation to secure more flexible UK membership terms, it will not be sufficient.”
The Prime Minister ordered the series of reports on EU influence in July 2012. The documents focus on how each Whitehall department is influenced by the EU, as part of the Prime Minister’s plan to negotiate a new deal without forcing Britain to leave the EU entirely.
The Government also sent out a wider survey to all 26 member countries asking for their opinions on the balance of power between the EU and national parliaments. However, Mr Cameron’s aims received a setback when France and Germany declined to take part in the exercise.
A senior Lib Dem source confirmed that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and other fellow party members had been through the Balance of Competences studies. “We have fed into and amended these documents just as we would any government reports,” the source said.
“These documents are not about providing Tory Euro-sceptic headbangers with ammunition to help Britain leave the EU. This is serious, meaty work to assess the pros and cons of what the European Union does for Britain.”
A submission by the British Chambers of Commerce will argue that though its members value the single market, firms often feel stifled by regulations.
“Many of the rules governing the Internal Market are overly complex and expensive to comply with, which has resulted in burdensome and unacceptably high regulation costs for UK business,” it reads.
“The widespread feeling among chamber members is that there have been a number of instances where they were provided with insufficient warning or advice before a new rule was introduced.”
Support for Mr Cameron has rallied on the Tory’s traditionally Euro-sceptic back benches since he set out a new policy on Europe earlier this year.
The Prime Minister said that if the Conservatives won the next general election he would seek to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe. Once the negotiation is complete, Mr Cameron would ask the British public whether it wants to remain part of the EU in an “in-out referendum”, to be held by 2017 at the latest.
So far, the Conservatives are the only party to commit to an EU referendum. However, a private member’s Bill tabled by the Tory backbencher James Wharton aims to introduce legislation that would oblige any party that won the next election to hold such a vote.
In an interview with The Telegraph this weekend Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, urged Mr Cameron to set out clearly what he hoped to achieve from a renegotiation with Europe. “We should be driving for a very profound renegotiation with Europe with very little political integration,” he said.

Why don’t people vote?

Very interesting post election piece in today’s Telegraph, that seems to lay some of the blame at the door of Tony Blair, for the lack of voter interest in our electoral process. Whilst that might be true, there’s no getting away from the fact that all those who have followed Blair, have used the same approach to governing this country and have therefore had the same negative effect on the public’s attitude to voting. Put simply, we now have a political system of compromises.

Our leading politicians may think they are being very clever deploying the tactic of satisfying most of the people most of the time. However, all it does is confuse the public by blurring the differences between those who stand for election to be our political leaders. Just like some shoppers often leave the supermarket without having made a purchase, because there was too much to choose from, the public will will walk away from the ballot box because they can’t fig out who to choose.

A couple of less than ideal examples would be, the Tories and their confusion over EU membership and the Labour Party’s increasingly cooling relationship with the unions.

Copyright – Daily Telegraph comment Saturday 17th November 2012


Until voters feel involved, localism is a lost cause

THE American congressman Tip O’Neill once said that all politics is local. Yet judging by the pitifully poor turnouts in the contests to elect new police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in England and Wales, when people in this country are given the chance to influence local decision-making, the majority apparently does not want to know.

Earlier this year towns and cities rejected poorly promoted plans for elected mayors and the campaign for the PCCs was equally badly executed. The idiocy of holding the elections in November was the fault of the Liberal Democrats, who wanted them uncoupled from the local polls in May. Ministers only got fully behind the reform late in the day and failed to place an important extension of local accountability in a wider political context. Many people complained that they knew little about the candidates and even less about their powers. Moreover, a significant number objected to the whole idea on the grounds that it represented the politicisation of the police. That, again, was partly the Government’s fault for failing to promote the participation of more independent candidates.

But even if political leaders had spent the past six months talking about nothing else, voters would still not have flocked to the polling booths. Thursday’s lack of interest reflected a deeper malaise at the heart of our democracy that has been apparent for some time. Turnouts at national and local elections have been plummeting for 20 years and a report earlier this year from the Hansard Society suggested that political engagement is lower than at any time since the equal franchise was introduced in 1928.

In a recent survey of British social attitudes, only 56 per cent considered voting to be a civic duty; the number who thought it was not worth voting at all has more than doubled since 1991, from 8 per cent to 18 per cent. In the last three general elections, 65 per cent or less of the electorate has voted. The nadir was in 2005, with a turnout of 59 per cent: Tony Blair’s government, which secured 36 per cent of the vote, was returned with the support of just one voter in five.

It is telling that the highest turnout at a general election in recent years – 78 per cent – was in 1992. That was a contest in which people felt they had a real choice and that the outcome would influence the direction the country might take. Out of that defeat sprang New Labour, whose leaders set out to destroy politics as a battle of ideas and turn it into a technocratic pursuit of the floating voter underpinned by a mendacious mix of spin, focus-grouping and fence-sitting.

This lack of conviction and deliberate denial of leadership fed into a popular cynicism about politicians that was compounded by the expenses scandal in the last parliament. After all, it is not as though people have lost all interest in politics. Opinions are traded more freely than ever via the internet but they often have a common theme – a belief that politicians, whether national or local, don’t listen to the electorate, but rather conduct a debate among themselves and with the media that excludes the rest of the population. Why bother voting if you feel it cannot make a difference? It is this sense of participation – not simply in the vote itself, but in what comes afterwards – that is missing. Yet, ironically, the one thing that the creation of police and crime commissioners was supposed to achieve was to reconnect an important local institution with the people it serves.

No doubt many will conclude that the turnout indicates a popular rejection of localism – the idea that people should wrench back control over their public services after years of centralisation. They are too busy, have too many other distractions or they simply cannot be bothered, so just let the professionals get on with it. Yet if voters were given the chance to make a real difference – perhaps through a greater use of local referendums – then more would take part. Yes, we want our services to be efficiently run and to work properly; but that will only happen if we have more power to influence how they are delivered. National party machines have had their day. The lesson to be drawn from Thursday’s debacle is that we need more localism, not less.